European settlers began arriving on Efate in the early 1840s, and there was frequent conflict between the crews of these ships and the local population. The British dispatched several warships to the island in 1849 and 1850 to control the violence, and some British sailors settled on the island around Port Havannah. French settlers began arriving in the 1870s when the French began purchasing large parcels of land to establish plantations. From these two groups came the Anglo-French connection which developed in to the Condominium government established in 1906.
Britain took full control of administration of the islands when France was occupied by the Germans in 1940. In 1942, US military forces arrived and established bases at Port Villa and Port Havannah. More than 100,000 allied service personnel passed through these bases during WWII.
Today, Port Havannah has returned to a sparsely populated agricultural area, and Port Vila has become an urban center. They both, however, are pleasant anchorages.
The waterfront in Port Vila is dominated by the anchorage. This is a deep anchorage (we were in 132′), and a business calling itself Yachting World has established over 100 moorings for visiting boats. They are a particularly friendly and helpful bunch. We radioed ahead that we would like a mooring, and they had a boat meet us at the entrance buoy, escort us to our mooring, and hand us lines. They have a fuel dock, and they provide fresh water from their hose without charge. They also have a small dock in front of the Harborfront Restaurant to which a boat can Med-moor with power and water; however, that was a bit more civilized than we wanted. We enjoyed the semi-privacy of a mooring.
Local women at the market
We also ate well at a few restaurants. Restaurant food is quite expensive in Port Vila, but we treated ourselves a few times. And we had one particular treat with our friends Rolf and Yolanda on SV Moana. While in Port Resolution, Tanna, another boat dragged anchor and did a bit of damage to Moana’s port rail. We were able to repair it for them before they sailed and caused further damage. So, to say ‘thank you’, they took us to a memorable lunch at the Rendezvous Restaurant. A good meal with good friends.
We also found the Bon Marche supermarket which was surprisingly well stocked. We didn’t expect to find so much to choose from.
There was an annual music festival while we were on Efate. Local string bands are common in each village, and we attended the first night of the festival during which over 40 string bands played (we did not stay for all of it!). The string bands usually have a wash-tub bass, a few guitars, and a few ukuleles. The instrumental music they play all sounds remarkably similar, but they sing different melodies with it. The singing is quite high and nasal. Probably an acquired taste. There were also two days/nights of pop music and one of gospel, but we only went to listen to the string bands.
It is always good to find a post office and/or FedEx office and internet access. So we also took care of a little business including updating our website through Fiji. And we caught up with a few friends and even made a few new ones.
But we spent too much time inside the marina in Vuda Point, Fiji, waiting for weather to ease, and we were ready to move on to the outer islands. Again, we waited for lousy weather to blow over. It looked like our day would be Sunday, October 8.
We left Port Vila early in the morning on the 8th heading for Port Havannah. Two boats we know had traveled to Port Havanah the day prior, and we heard them hailing each other on the radio, so we listened in. Milliways said that winds had decreased from 40 to 30 knots, and Crusader said that he was putting a third reef in his mainsail. We turned around and went back to our mooring for one more night.
Shortly after we returned to our mooring, we had a nice surprise visit from Yvonne on SV Thor’s Gladyen. Yvonne and Michael were our neighbors at the fuel dock in Honolulu for a few years, and we had not seen them since they left in 2003. But Yvonne saw us go by as we returned to our mooring, and she rowed over to visit. What a small world.
But we did make it out on Monday, the 9th. Although a bit blustery, we headed for Port Havannah.
We caught a nice wahoo off Devil’s Point just outside Port Vila, and we continued to have a nice trip around to Port Havannah. When we arrived, we anchored in a small bay near our friends Russ & Shirley on SV Wandering Star and another boat, SV Tyrene, that we did not know. We started bagging up fish and giving it away. We gave a large bag to a passing fisherman, and we sent bags to both Wandering Star and Tyrene.
Russ and Shirley told us that they had seen a dugong the previous day in the bay just next to where we were, so we raised our anchor and moved one bay to the north. We asked a local man in a canoe where the dugong hung out, and he indicated where we should anchor. We saw many turtles there (there were so many turtles that they were banging in to our boat at night), but we did not see the dugong.
One day we took the dinghy around the point up to what is called Boat Passage. It is too shallow for any boat to pass over it, but that is its name. It was very isolated and pretty with remarkably clear water. But it got quite windy and rough, and the outboard developed a fuel problem (since repaired), so we limped back to the boat.
We also took the dinghy up a river that dumps in to the anchorage. This was another very nice excursion.
Onshore in the bay where we anchored are the gardens for the islanders across the bay on Moso Island. There are too many wild pigs on Moso to keep gardens, so they plant their gardens on Efate and row across the bay nearly every day. These gardens produce the very nice tomatoes that find their way to the market in Vila.
We also walked from the anchorage up through the gardens to the road – about a 20 minute walk literally over the river and through the woods. There are a lot of tomatoes growing there! These seem to be rather industrious people. Refreshing.
The people around Port Havannah were also very kind, generous, and friendly. They brought us vegetables, and they often stopped just to talk. Surely they did not know how important that was to us after our experience in Port Resolution, but we felt much better after spending time with this local population. We waited for a weather window to leave and head further north.
A very pretty river